Saturday, November 29, 2008

Chiapas Journal: Day Five

Es la Fiesta de la Virgen de Caridad! Fireworks have been going off since 6am this morning...

It seems like there´s always something going on here - there are always fireworks, much like in Tepoztlan (another Pueblo Magico) - but today the fireworks started early to announce the the first mass of the feast day. As I sit writing this near 1am the next morning, I can still hear the live music playing outside the church not far from here...


Ok, I´m going to do what I hate: I´m going to generalize. But bear with me for a minute.

There is a certain vibrancy to life here. It courses underneath sometimes, but surfaces ebulliently, incredibly. You can see it on Catholic feast days (of which there is no shortage) when flowers cover the doors of churches in elaborate decoration, in spite of the bitter cold of this mountain city. You can see it in the ofrendas of the Day of the Dead, despite the sadness of remembering family members no longer here in the flesh. You can see it in the million flags on Independence Day, in spite of the widespread cynicism toward the current government. For all the Good Friday suffering in Chiapas, that vibrant joy is present here, too.

The French call this vibrancy in everyday life "joie de vivre," and maybe I´m thinking of the French tonight because today we met with Padre Miguel Chanteau, a priest originally from France (and who still maintains a thick French accent through his Spanish) who worked in the nearby community of Chenalho for some 33 years. Today Padre Miguel met with us to talk about Acteal, the community in which there was a horrific massacre eleven years ago. (We plan to visit Acteal tomorrow.) Padre Miguel told us again the story of Acteal, but in greater and much more personal detail than we had heard before. (You can read the story of Acteal for yourself here.) At the time of the massacre, Acteal fell within the jurisdiction of his parish.

After the 1997 massacre, Padre Miguel spoke out. He told it like he saw it. He placed blame. He refused to attribute the murder of his people to some unforeseeable freak incident. And he was promptly deported back to France. After a change in government in 2000, he was allowed to return, but only to San Cristobal - never again to the people he served faithfully for three decades. He passed around some photos, and a cross the people of his former parish had given to him. It clearly meant a lot.

Yet here was the odd thing: For all of the suffering and death Padre Miguel had seen, for all of the trouble his prophetic stance had caused him, Padre Miguel possessed a sharp and wily sense of humor. How can I repeat all of his sly jibes and clerical one-liners? I cannot. They escape me now, leaving only my memory of a room full of laughter, laughter provoked by a little old man whose fierce faith was shot through with a hearty sense of humor.

At some point a Jehovah´s Witness showed up at the door, which only added to the glorious absurdity of the morning. Then Padre Miguel refused to let us leave without sharing a shot of tequila with him - an "ecumenical communion," he called it. But Padre Miguel, it´s only 11 o´clock in the morning... "Hey," he said. "To keep the faith strong, you need to drink a little." So we did. And then he told more jokes.

A Frenchman adopted by the people of Mexico. A joie de vivre, even in this world. A shot of tequila, to keep the faith strong. Gracias a Dios.

1 comment:

Zach & Hannah Parris said...

Happy New Year! We had a new year party at church this morning..good times. I've been catching up on your Chiapas trip; we've been out of town, but we got to be at the Clemson game...a big win for Z's birthday and lots of fun all around!